Palo Alto’s Teen Sniper

There’s no hostages that I can see, only about 475 meters of open courtyard between me and Cherry G. The shot will be a tricky one: the bullet will become wobbly and transient as it moves through different temperature zones — bucking in the heat waves above the hot parking lot, diving as it crosses cool, shady lawn, and finally tumbling through the rising humidity of a man-made lake.

To the west, Cedric and Henry are dragging their heavy water-cooled magnum into position atop a Jamba Juice while across the way, Twan climbs a cellular tower, a sleek rifle equipped with satellite-assisted targeting dangling behind him on a rope. The satellite rifle is essential when fog rolls in, and Twan is just the man to operate it –he’s got the cool, the confidence, to fire on faith into a blanket of white.

I’m calculating the crosswind when Lt. Kim calls back.

“Tell me how you’re feeling about the shot”, she says.

I don’t answer right away. I can hear her sipping tea in the command van, waiting for a response, while in the background Gupta is negotiating his ass off in Urdu, though I do make out the word “pizza.”

“Maybe let’s talk about it later,” I tell her. I know the guys are listening, and I’m gonna get some razzing about “my feelings” in the locker room.

“Do you want to try a few visualizations?” she asks.

“Just leave me alone, all right?” I radio in, trying not to let my voice crack, which is a problem lately.

(Leela Broussard gestured passionately to emphasize her points, and punctuate her logic, at John’s Cafe downtown, her interactions with Mike and Bill temporarily, for a half, and up to the German goal, drawing me away from the World Cup match that was my intention and goal. As the conversation danced around the Roberts Court and its distinction from, for example that of Burger, my mind flashed to Adam Johnson’s 2002 story — in Harper’s — “Teen Sniper”. I had posed the question: if the North Korean leader Kim had delivered what in his construct was “personal freedom” would that be better than living here today in America where “equality is weighted with freedom” or some such. I posited that before he won the Pulitzer Prize for imaging life in a North Korean prison, he prepped by imagining life in the cushy and exclusive fictional enclave of the Palo Alto Police Headquarters, where an elite SWAT team — compared to a SWOT team — strength weakness opportunity and threat — included or revolved around a teen prodigy named Blackbird.

I’ve actually name-dropped or described Adam Johnson eight times now on Plastic Alto. I’ve seen him speak twice and had him sign my copy of his book. I first noticed him thanks to Charlie Rose.

My copy of the Harper’s article is illustrated by a Jeff Decoster; it depicts a man who has been shot — presumably he has done something to deserve this, in the morally relavistic world that Johnson describes – and there are five flowers surrounding him, in varying degrees of interaction with the action plane – in music you would say it is digetic or non-digetic, the extent to which the fictional characters could hear the music or see the flowers. One flower is more like a puddle of blood, below the figure but on his shadow. As I was doing a quick search to calculate the SWOT of stealing this exact image for above — I could always swede in a photo of the download — and I am like a teen sniper in my sophistication for targeting content for appropriate — well, not hardly –but there is some method to it – I wondered if DeCoster could be a veteran; he has a section on his site for war art. (And my mind flashed to Ehren Tool, in his final days as Palo Alto artist in residence– actually Tool reminded me of Johnson). I wasn’t wondering about Decoster enough to dial his number — 626 that sounds like Boston area to me. But what I did notice, and then left her both a voice mail and a quick note – is that Ruthann Richter, who I worked with in 1984 at Times Tribune — plus we had family friends in common — wrote a prize-winning story for Stanford Medicine Journal about brain trauma in Veterans, and this too was decorated by Jeffrey Decoster.

I am still processing Tim Lincecum and his no-hitter, which I witnessed as part of the 41,500 Greek chorus. I gave him a three-hour standing ovation, literally, in that I stood in the exact same spot, behind 151 or 152, on the Levi’s Landing, near the right fired foul pole, just next to the long diode-message board, in standing room only area, a ticket to which I bought in front of the stadium for $10 (down from $18.75) just before first pitch. I watched virtually every pitch, pausing only to chat up Danielle the photographer (recent SJSU b.f.a.), a tourist from the Yucatan and a dour teen or college student selling lukewarm corn dogs. I told Terry that I would stay until Lincecum was finished. But since he struck out two of the first three batters, I was pretty dialed in to him pitch by pitch. That my earlier quick post, “What’s the Freak-quency, Timmy?” references probability, I still don’t have a good answer to how many games might a fan attend to have a even chance of seeing a no-no? I felt that I had seen about 500 games, over 40 plus season, but that I was lucky to see any let along this one. In 1988 I invited Steve Cohen to go with me to the A’s to see Nolan Ryan pitch, then bailed on him when Luis Ruvalcaba or Edwin Crayton called to tell me that our ad hoc pro bono advertising SWOT-SWAT elite sniper team was going to meet that very same night in Berkeley. Steve soldiered on, then gave me a report about the Nolan Ryan no-hitter. Seeing Lincecum throw one made amends.

If this is not a shaggy enough dog, here is the first couple graphs from Ruthann:

Brett Miller was just 6 feet from the roadside bomb when it exploded amid a flash of light, a hail of dirt and splintering glass. A 31-year-old U.S. Army sergeant, he’d been speeding in his Humvee down a debris-strewn road in Iraq, a stretch between Mosul and Kirkuk that is notorious for its roadside bombs. Miller had been hit there several times before but never with the kind of head-splitting force that roared through on Aug. 11, 2005.

Jeffrey Decoster

This time he wouldn’t walk away. Instead he would become captive to a brain injury that would go unrecognized for more than a year. Today, after many months of therapy, he can express what that initial feeling was like — of literally losing his mind.

“You can’t communicate. You have no physical reactions. You have no feelings. It’s as if you’re duct-taped, blindfolded and tied,” says Miller, now in a brain injury rehabilitation unit at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System.

These hidden, often debilitating, traumatic brain injuries have become the trademark of the Iraq war. Kevlar-armored soldiers who would have previously died in combat are surviving blasts, vehicle collisions and other assaults, only to walk away with injuries to the brain that might not be immediately apparent.

Nearly 1,900 of the more than 24,000 soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan have been treated for traumatic brain injuries at the eight Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Centers, of which the Palo Alto-VA is one. Eighty-eight percent suffered “closed head” injuries — those that are buried in the brain and are often missed, especially when there are other obvious problems, such as an amputation, that need urgent attention, according to VA figures.

I had been tempted to send Adam Johnson “Teen Sniper” to local leadership as some sort of context to the discussion about building a new public safety building. I also wrote recently about my request for information about the 17-teen-year old possibly charged for hate crimes for scrawling various utterances on the walls of Gunn High School and especially its new Strong Schools Bond N-Building. One of his messages says “Thank God Lobos is leaving”.

I tend to advocate investing in people — in terms of Public Safety here I was one of only 50 Palo Altans willing to speak up for our guys and gals in blue when Measure D was passed — and am becoming more and more skeptical about capital campaigns, even for Public Safety.

Tags: Adam Johnson, Ruthann Richter, Ehren Tool, Tim Lincecum


About markweiss86

Mark Weiss, founder of Plastic Alto blog, is a concert promoter and artist manager in Palo Alto, as Earthwise Productions, with background as journalist, advertising copywriter, book store returns desk, college radio producer, city council and commissions candidate, high school basketball player; he also sang in local choir, and fronts an Allen Ginsberg tribute Beat Hotel Rm 32
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